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Why we don't change

This is 2020. A global pandemic is raging through the world and has killed over 200,000 people in the US so far. Wealth inequality continues to rise, with the richest 1% of the population controlling more than 38% of the country’s wealth. Between 15 and 25 million people have taken to the streets this summer to protest systemic racism, probably the largest civic movement in US history.

Still, it doesn’t feel like much change is happening.

Change is difficult.

When do we say enough is enough? What trigger do we need to finally take real action against those who are destroying our humanity?

Why do we resist change?

I recently read The Catalyst, How To Change Anyone’s Mind, by Jonah Berger and it provided a great framework for why we are so averse to change. According to the author, a renowned expert on behavior change, one of the reasons why we tend to resist change is that we’re attached to what we have. Even if what we have is not that great.

Think about it. Have you ever kept an old pair of pants that don’t fit anymore just because you like them? More seriously, have you ever stayed too long in a terrible relationship or job because you were unsure of what would come next?

We are so afraid of uncertainty that we’d rather continue doing something that isn’t good for us than try something different that might have better outcomes.

It’s completely illogical, but that’s who we are. This passivity is reflected in today’s society. We say we want change, but most of us aren’t doing much to change.

Here’s an example: less than 65% of eligible voters cast a vote in presidential elections since 1996. For congressional elections, that rate drops to under 55% on average by state.

Why do we stick to the status quo? Because we already have a lot on our plates, because it’s someone else’s job, because one person can only have so much impact. We have plenty of reasons, some of them good, some of them not so good.

The problem with these excuses is that they consistently shift the responsibility to someone or something else. That’s how we end up with societal structures that are unfair, racist, unjust, undemocratic.

How can we change?

The truth is every action helps even if it’s small. If you’re in a position of privilege, your responsibility is even larger because you have the tools that others don’t–whether it’s time or money or influence.

In The Catalyst, Jonah Berger proposes several ways to remove some of the roadblocks to change. I want to discuss a few of them here that I believe are critical for us to take action this year.

Understanding the cost of inaction

It’s easy to do nothing if we don’t think our action will have an impact. However, we need to understand that doing nothing is making a choice. The consequences of that choice are creeping up on us and we’ve reached a breaking point. Our common inaction has led to consequences that are close to irreversible.

Inequality is at its peak, whether it’s racial, health, wealth or other. If we don’t choose to change our societal structures to reduce inequality, we will continue to see a caste of elites making decisions for all of us. Our community ties will continue to unwind themselves until we completely lose trust between one another.

Doing nothing is not costless.

Bridging the gap

The country seems so divided right now that it’s hard to imagine us as one community. We may not share the same beliefs, opinions or desires, but we do share something: we are in this together, whether we like it or not. Our only way to progress is collaboration.

As hard as it sounds, compromise is the only way forward. We need to find what we can agree on and build from there instead of focusing on our biggest differences. I say that knowing that it’s almost impossible to change one’s mind, especially if the belief is deep, rooted in tradition. But I’m willing to listen so we can move forward.

The benefit of change

“We all stand to gain from taking actions that benefit our community.”

The questions we should be asking are:

  • Who benefits from a particular action, decision or law?

  • Who will be harmed by it?

  • How do we focus on solutions that increase benefits and reduce harm?

For example, wearing a mask and respecting social distance guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 potentially benefits a lot of people and doesn’t harm anyone. Should we be capable of relinquishing a bit of comfort to protect millions who are at risk and to prevent a recession that could take decades to rebound from?

Little by little, we can change our behaviors and refocus on what matters. Building a community that stands for equality, progress and humanity.

One action you can take today to enact change is to go vote on November 3rd (or before) and encourage people around you to do the same.


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